The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, Mexico

The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, Mexico

The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco represents an important example of the cultural exchange between European and Latin American cultures and is a masterpiece of Mexican Baroque. The Sanctuary, officially called the Santuario de Dios y de la Patria” (Sanctuary of God and Country). The complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who, according to tradition, was called upon by a vision of Jesus with a crown of thorns on his head and carrying a cross. The Sanctuary of Jesus Nazareno of Atotonilco is famous for its murals that reflect a syncretism of Catholic religious iconography mixed with native religious beliefs. The church has served as a spiritual center for over 200 years and is still the destination of religious pilgrimages, attracting as many as 5,000 visitors every week. It also served as the finishing point of the famous Mexican Independence Route. The sanctuary comprises the church, with the Room of the Apostles located behind its apse, and six lateral chapels. Cupolas and towers decorate the otherwise modest facade. The sanctuary’s famous pictorial murals by Miguel Martínez de Pocasangre and the numerous artworks of the chapels represent an iconographical program inspired by the life of San Ignacio de Loyola. The nave of the sanctuary is surrounded by several side chapels arranged in a particular order for a preplanned program of worship. The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco is a World Heritage Site (2008) along with the historic center of San Miguel de Allende.  Atotonilco is located fourteen km outside the town of San Miguel de Allende.

Interior – The Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco

Outside of the church complex is very simple with high walls that give it a fortress look. The outer walls are about ten metres high; the cupolas reach twelve metres and the clock tower is about twenty metres high. The main church is a single nave without a cupola, lined on the north and south flanks by chapels and chambers. On the north side of the nave, there are the new sacristy, the Rosary Chapel, the chambers of Father Neri, the Belen Chapel/Baptistery and the Reliquary Room. On the south side, there are the Santisimo Chapel, the Soledad Chapel, the Loreto Chapel with its back chamber, the Gloria Escondida Chamber and the Santo Sepulcro Chapel with the Calvario Chapel behind it.  The walls and ceilings of the interior are nearly entirely covered in mural work, sculpture, inscriptions and oil paintings in a style called Mexican Folk Baroque, although indigenous influence can be seen. The only exception to this is the neoclassical altars which were installed later. Most of the mural work was done by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre with some done by Jose Maria Barajas over a period of thirty years with almost no free space left among the numerous images.

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